Text and paragraph formatting

What is the best tool, add-on, or method to get more control over paragraph and text formatting? Numbered headings, color and other style for individual words, etc. Technical documentation requires a lot more detailed formatting than the basic Confluence tools allow.

1 answer

HI Sarah,

Adaptavist's Content Formatting plugin includes some excellent free macros for content formatting and I use a lot of them regularly.  For coloured words you can use Confluence's inbuilt colour picker, and the Content Formatting plugin includes a Highlight macro for a background colour for individual words (or whatever length of text you want). Numbered lists aren't included in that package, but I tend to use bullet points until I'm happy with the order of the list and change the bullets to numbers.

If you're going to do serious technical writing and are using Confluence to get content from developers and SMEs, you might want to consider exporting the pages as HTML or XML and converting them for use in a help authoring tool.  This DITA plugin might help if you want to go down that road.

Thank you for quick answer.

This does not solve our problems, though. We would like to have, if not same but nearly as rich, formatting options as in Word or FrameMaker or other tool used for technical writing.

Of course you can change formats manually (color picker) or with a macro, but that is time consuming and not practical when building new looks and new document templates. You need to be able to change all instances of a format at the same time, tranfser a format to set formats in another template when exporting to external tools, etc.

We will export to both HTML and PDF and sometimes Word (different content).

 

P.S. I don't understand what you mean by the bullets changed to numbers. There is a format for numbered lists in our version.

 

Hi Sarah,

In (e.g.) Word, you can move things around and the numbering in the lists will keep up with your changes.  Confluence doesn't have that functionality, so when creating a list I use bullet points, and when I'm finished and happy with the order, I select all of the bullet points and use the numbered list option to convert the bullets to numbers.

As to the kind of heavy-duty formatting and templating you're talking about, Confluence doesn't have it.  You can create templates for layouts, but not for formatting.  It is not the same kind of tool as Word, and not the same kind of tool as FrameMaker (or Flare, which has been my tool of choice in the past).  As a comparison think of Confluence as Markdown and Flare as DITA XML - one is used for simple formatting and one is used for things like topics and single sourcing.

If you have to use Confluence, one tip is to use an Excerpt macro to hold a snippet or variable, and then use the Excerpt Include macro to show that text on any page where you need it.  It's the closest thing to single sourcing smile

Confluence is a collaboration tool first and foremost. It will likely never be as style rich as Word. That said, you can recreate Word docs faithfully with effort (span macros and CSS, for example), but as you said, it isn't quick or easy.

And to be clear, "technical documentation" does NOT inherently require more detailed formatting, though your company's standards might require it. For the half dozen or so technical companies I've worked for, none needed anything more that what Confluence offers natively, save for one that was just starting a move to DITA (via Framemaker) when I left, though I easily recreated pre-DITA Framemaker docs in Confluence.

So all of @Rob Woodgate's suggestions are worth exploring, but your company might want to look into O365 SharePoint if you are really fixed on having literally a Word-like interface.

 

+1 for @Milo Grika's suggestion about O365.  That way you can continue to use Word whilst still having auditing, permissions and sharing.

Thank you for your answers. It confirms what we were beginning to suspect about the limitations in editing in Confluence. So we have to plan accordingly.

Of course it's good to rethink your formatting when moving to another system, and maybe formatting has been too complex so far. Reformatting is needed anyway as the company hasn't had any common templates; documents have been produced in a range of different tools. But I do think that No text styles at all, only paragraph styles, is a surprisingly barebone solution for any type of writing. 

I do not at all want to use Word for technical writing - it has its own set of inherent problems. Especially when people who aren't dedicated writers use it. What is important is a solution that every employer can use, and I think Confluence will work well for cooperation and finding all documentation in the same place etc. 

1 final point: Lots of people need to make Confluence do things it's not quite perfect for, so there are a large range of plugins in the marketplace that might help you.  Scroll Office is popular and sounds like it might give you a lot of what you need.

Also, Atlassian's Confluence blog has been surprisingly useful in suggesting ways to write, organise and present information.

Good luck smile

I've already tried to find something on the Marketplace. That is why I came here as a last resort. Scroll Office seem to have good features. But still only for exporting, not for in-Confluence work. There seems to be a lot of add-ons solving specific export problems (most of them towards web-publication as Confluence is primarily made for wikis not for PDF-production). 

Maybe we will use Scroll Office or one or several of these: Scroll PDF Exporter, Content Exporter (Word, PDF), Scroll HTML Exporter. It's a jungle out there and it takes a lot of research to see what they can do and cannot and how we can stitch up a complete solution from import of old texts, editing, export. 

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